Every year Presbyterians celebrate Heritage Sunday, a day to reflect upon and learn more about the history of the Presbyterian church in America. This year the Presbyterian Historical Society is realizing a full-circle moment that connects the past to the present of a historic Washington, D.C. church.
PHS recently welcomed the Rev. Dr. Perzavia T. Praylow to its Board of Directors. Praylow is a social historian and practical theologian who is pastor of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, a congregation once led by the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet. Garnet is the focus of the society’s 2019 Heritage Sunday church bulletin insert.
The insert — available for download in time for Heritage Sunday on May 19 — focuses on “Let the Monster Perish,” a sermon Garnet delivered on Capitol Hill shortly before the end of the Civil War. The sermon was heralded for its honest depiction of slavery, inspired tone, and prophetic vision that called for more than emancipation. Garnet listed future steps needed for a just society, including full enfranchisement and education.
The sermon was guided not only by Garnet’s faith in God but by his faith in humanity. He called on the American people to be better than they had been because he knew they could be.
Garnet’s faith led him to promote social justice and educational activism, whether he was standing before his congregation or the chambers of Congress.
Today, Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church is guided by a similar spirit of civic engagement in its local community and around the world. The Northwest D.C. congregation’s outreach program includes a Brown Bag Lunch Program for the Homeless, Community Shop Program, Anti-Gun Violence Ministry, Garden Ministry, Prison Pen Pals Ministry and the Zambia Well Water Ministry.
As Praylow explains, “The congregation of this church has a remarkable history of, and commitment to, African American education. The original building was a repurposed school. The preaching of the Gospel and its application in social service and education have been two fields in which this church has led. Lay members, as well as ministers, have led in service.”
Now, as in 1865, Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church is grounded not only in its belief in God, but in the people it serves.
Last summer’s General Assembly passed an overture calling on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to honor the prophetic voice of Henry Highland Garnet. To learn more about him and his historic sermon, download this year’s Heritage Sunday Bulletin Insert at https://www.history.pcusa.org/hs
Organized in 1852, the Presbyterian Historical Society is the oldest denominational archives in the United States and serves as the national archives for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and many predecessor denominations. PHS is a ministry of the Office of the General Assembly.